Denver Microhousing Competition Attracts Global Interest

Commentary: A Walk in the Park

How Istanbul’s Central Park became the center of a movement.

How To More Than Double Your Fee

During my interview with a potential client, I answer many questions. Most are very similar; How much will it cost? How long will it take? Are you available to start right away? Do you have any references? You know… all the questions they learn to ask from their favorite shows on HGTV. Another question that […]



A few weeks ago, I created a post on “going minimal” and this week I am adding two more spreads to the project. I mentioned in the first post how difficult it is for me to leave white space on the page and I think the above two spreads show this discomfort through a denser layout than the first two. While I don’t exactly have the white space concept figured out, it is forcing me to think differently about page layout. For example, I am giving the content more breathing room than I typically do. More space around the images means smaller images to account for this extra space. However, I think the clarity and readability of the pages make up for slightly smaller images. 

It’s rare to find an illustration on this site without some sort of grunge or sketch texture overlayed on top. However, with these latest spreads, less energy was put into textures and more into line weights and contrast. Since I am working to avoid using rendering engines for these spreads, getting floor plans, sections, and elevations to read clearly with depth means using line weights and SU shadows to my advantage. I like the look of thick profile lines that define the boundary of the imagery as well as the contrast created from sharp / dark shadows simply exported from Sketchup. These moves help to hide the “Sketchup look”.

Finally, I took some screen shots of the grids I set up in each of the files.  Simple, clean layouts will reveal the smallest misalignments. Setting up grid systems allowed me to place each object and text in a location that had a relationship to something else. While not everything landed perfectly on the grid, the grid did help me to give proper and equal spacing to the imagery, align column grids, and find patterns in the geometry that aren’t instantly noticeable without the grid. The grid spacing was based on a few variables such as the number of images displayed on the pages, the “9 square cube” concept, and/or the rule of thirds. 


I’m up to four spreads with this project. I still might put together a spread comprised of perspective vignettes similar to what is on the first page. It’s going to take some experimenting to get the interior shots to display like I am imagining in my head. More on this later.

feedback: designing the dredge cycle

[Beach replenishment on Rockaway Beach, New York (well before Hurricane Sandy); image via USACE]

Fellow Dredge Research Collaborator Brett Milligan and I have a co-authored article in the latest issue of Scenario Journal (formerly Landscape Urbanism Journal), 04: Rethinking Infrastructure. The article reflects on the after effects of Hurricane Sandy, the history and future of Jamaica Bay, and lessons learned at DredgeFest NYC:

“In the wake of the storm, the pivotal role of New York’s sedimentary infrastructures in both enabling commerce within the harbor and serving as bulwarks against and dissipaters of storm surge was highlighted, shedding new light on the urgency of the task of understanding and contending with climate change, coastal resiliency, and the dredge cycle in tandem. A wide variety of responses to the storm have been broached in the press by politicians, designers, engineers, and scientists: multi-billion dollar surge barriers permanently emplaced in the harbor [32]; home buyouts in flood-damaged areas with the intention of retreating from the most heavily impacted zones[33]; “grassy network of land-based parks accompanied by watery patches of wetlands and tidal salt marshes,” as well as “breakwater islands made of geotextile tubes and covered with marine plantings” [34]; strategically hardening infrastructures to better absorb the impact of and ride out flooding when it does occur; and “a system of artificial reefs in the channel and the bay built out of rocks, shells and fuzzy rope that is intended to nurture the growth of oysters,” “nature’s wave attenuators” [35].

If events such as DredgeFest NYC and the conception of the dredge cycle have something unique to offer in this conversation, it is recognizing the quasi-designed linkages between multiple anthropogenically-driven landscape processes, be they dredging itself, beach nourishment, the Panama Canal Expansion, wetlands both eroding and accreting, coastal development, or sea level rise and ever-increasing frequencies of intense storms. Observing and acting upon these networked material relations is at least as critical to the resilience of urban systems as dealing with any individual component in isolation. The salt marshes of Jamaica Bay shrank for a hundred years without any human intervention intended to ameliorate or reverse that shrinkage. Restoration work only began when a seemingly unconnected event in a distant country, the Canal Expansion, produced a sudden surplus of suitable sand, and engineers and scientists opportunistically seized the chance to utilize that surplus. Re-designing the dredge cycle for the Anthropocene will require observing, designing, and manipulating such feedbacks, harnessing their aggregate energy so that they strengthen rather than undermine systemic resiliency.”

You can read the full article at Scenario Journal.

[Speaking of the future of Jamaica Bay: you might want to check out “Protective Ecologies”, a short video produced by several of our DredgeFest collaborators — Gena Wirth, Alex Chohlas-Wood, and Ben Mendelsohn. “Protective Ecologies” was recently included in an exhibition at MoMA’s PS1 VW Dome 2. Speaking of Scenarios Journal 04, there are a number of other fantastic essays in the issue; I’ll probably excerpt a couple of the most intriguing ones over the next few days or weeks.]

David Chipperfield-designed Addition to St. Louis Art Museum Opens This Month

Though other alterations to the museum have been met with resistance, British architect Sir David Chipperfield has largely been spared such polemics with his modest design for the new East Building, opening June 29.

Made Here: Brooklyn’s Navy Yard is Home to a Manufacturing Revival

The Brooklyn Navy Yard, once a hulking emblem of American industrial might, is showing the way to a revival of urban manufacturing.

Man Abandons Man-Cave Because of Hidden Building Enclosure Problems

jack man cave outside

My wife and I visited family in Florida recently and our first stop was the home of my sister and brother-in-law in Lakeland (east of Tampa). They haven’t lived in the house all that long, and my brother-in-law, Jack, moved his man-cave into the one upstairs room when they settled in. After one summer in the room, however, he abandoned that room for the cooler space downstairs. The problem, although not obvious to homeowners facing it, is a relatively simple one.

You can see the room in question in the photo at left. The house has a flat roof, and this room projects up through the center of it. If you have a feel for building enclosures, you may already see where this is going. If not, keep reading.

The anatomy of walls

I spotted the first potential problem when I looked out the windows in the room. I could see that the flat roof outside was above the level of my waist, which meant that the room was surrounded on all four sides with attic kneewalls more than three feet high. Knowing what I know about kneewalls, I suspected that when I looked in the attic, I’d see the typical mess there.

jack man cave attic kneewall

Yep. There it was. Insulation in a 2×4 attic kneewall with no sheathing over it. The insulation is dark in places, which indicates that air has been moving through it, too.

jack man cave attic kneewall floor joist blocking air barrier
jack man cave single pane metal frame window
jack man cave 50 birthday

Continue reading “Man Abandons Man-Cave Because of Hidden Building Enclosure Problems”

Toyo Ito Accepts Pritzker Prize in Boston

Moving Madison Square Garden

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration, SHoP Architects, and SOM propose plans to relocate the famed New York City arena.

A Great Tool for Checking Insulation in Walls

insulation inspection wall hole drywallIf you live in an older home, the walls may or may not have insulation in them. After you’ve tackled all the easier-to-access parts of the building enclosure, namely the floors and ceilings, uninsulated walls would be next on the list. If you’re replacing the siding or doing a full gut-rehab, it’ll be easy to determine how much insulation, if any, insulation your home has. Otherwise, you’ll need to figure out what you’ve got, and try to do it without having to knock big holes in the wall, although that would certainly work.

Infrared cameras and borescopes allow you to do this, but you’re probably not going to rush out and buy one if you’re just a inquisitive homeowner and not a home energy pro. You could always pull off some of the switch and receptacles plates and try to look into the gap between the electrical junction box and the drywall or plaster, but often you can’t see much. If you like to live dangerously, you could stick a metal coat hanger in that gap and see if you can pull any insulation out. (Don’t do this! Also, it’s safest to turn off the electricity to the circuit where you’re doing your inspection.)

insulation wall existing home inspection zip it drain cleaner 440

Actually, that last method, with the right tool, is a great way to go. Use a tool that’s safer than a coat hanger, however; something nonconductive. Martin Holladay recently wrote an article called Energy Upgrades for Beginners, in which he suggested using wooden chopsticks. It turns out that you can find an even better tool in the plumbing section of your local home improvement store. You can see it in action in the photos above and below.

insulation wall existing home inspection zip it drain cleaner fiberglass 440

When you stick it through the gap between the electrical junction box and the drywall or plaster and then pull it back, it will snag insulation if there’s any in there.

insulation inspection wall zip it tool barbs
insulation inspection zip it tool

Continue reading “A Great Tool for Checking Insulation in Walls”

SOM and CASE Launch New App

Just Start

What’s holding you back from the success of your dreams? Last summer my son Henry built a rowboat; an eleven foot poorboy skiff built from mahogany lumber and plywood. I shared Henry’s story here on the blog and sent a copy to the local newspaper in Alexandria Bay, New York near where Henry’s boat was […]


This past post received a lot of feedback from you asking for a more detailed breakdown of the illustrations. The interior illustration in particular got a lot of attention so I am going to start with that one. Since several different parts of the workflow have already been talked about in the past, I will be adding links to the corresponding sections to avoid too much duplicate information on this site. 

1. For this interior shot, I started the process by identifying where and how I wanted to light the space. I designed some linear pendant fixtures to provide most of the ambient light. Then I looked to some specific areas to use the light to highlight the form such as around the stair enclosure and washing the large side walls.  

View selected in the Sketchup Model

Blue highlights show proposed locations of artificial light

2. Once the locations were determined, I began applying a unique material to these locations so that I can tell this material to emit light later on in Kerkythea. I use a color that I know is not being used anywhere else in the model, in this case red. I also renamed the material such as Light 1, 2, 3, etc. so that it would be easier to identify when imported into Kerkythea.

3. The model is then imported into Kerkythea where I can begin telling the material to emit light. This is done by finding the material on the left, right clicking, and choosing “Edit Material”. In the material editor dialogue box, I first change the diffuse color to white. I next tell it to emit light by going to the “Self Luminance” section and giving it a “Radiance” color of white. The “Power, Efficiency, and Unit” settings will change based on how big your light and space are, but you can start with what I am showing and tweak the “Power” setting for more or less light. With the lights in place, I did a quick rendering which will be used as a base image in Photoshop. A more in depth explanation on this process can be found HERE

Above, a rendering from Kerkythea with artificial lights

4. Now that I have a base rendering, I am ready to go into Photoshop. I decided to overlay white line work onto the rendering to give the illustration a little more texture. Open the exported line work from Sketchup in Photoshop and move the layer above the base rendering layer. Go to “Image>Adjustments>Invert” to invert the line work colors. Then set the Blend Mode of the layer (found in the layers palette) to “Screen”. 

Exported line work from Sketchup

Line work inverted to create white lines.

Rendering with white line work layer set to “Screen”. 

5.  Knowing that I won’t be overlaying anymore exported SU images, I want to adjust the perspective so that the verticals are perfectly straight up and down. Select all of the layers, then go to “Edit> Transform> Perspective”. There was a post on this subject a while back going into more depth which can be found HERE.

6. This next step is something new that I have been experimenting with. I want to add some warmth and detail to the illustration in which case I would typically adjust the levels and add a color overlay. However, I have been playing around with a Photoshop plug-in by Topaz Labs.  It is primarily a photo editing software but it has been working great for my architectural illustrations. It offers a little more flexibility in terms of pulling out more detail and color in the images. I used the plug-in here to up the detail of the wood and concrete materials.

7. At this point, I am ready to get into the details of the illustration. The first couple of areas that I want to address are adding a background to the outside and fixing some lighting issues in the ceiling. 

8. People are always important for scale so I threw a few of them into the illustration. Reflections and shadows are key to getting your people to look like they belong in the illustration. Check out THIS VIDEO TUTORIAL for more on this subject. 

9. I wanted to play up the scale of the space and also the fact that so much light would be washing in from the outside. I can solve both these problems by using glare and fog. Using the brush tool and white paint with a really low opacity, I added a slight haze where I imagined a lot of daylight would be coming into the space. I also used this same method to create depth by painting in “fog” as the space projects further back into the distance. It’s a subtle move but helps to emphasize the areas of the interior that I want emphasized and gets the illustration closer to the atmosphere that I am looking for. THIS POST explains in more detail how to add fog.  

10. More color overlays. There are still many different color tones going on throughout the illustration. One way to unify this is by adding color overlays. I do this on almost every illustration and this one is no exception. All of the illustrations for this project are going to have a slightly warmer palette so I am going to add an orange color overlay. Check out THIS POST for more on color overlays. 

11. The image is looking good at this point and this last step probably isn’t always necessary. However, I used the Topaz Plugin “Adjust” one more time to tweak the colors and add detail to the illustration. 

Finally, some of you may have noticed that I am trying to raise money for the latest version of Photoshop. Everything on this site has been produced using CS2 and I think it is about time I upgrade to the latest version. If you find this site helpful and would like to see future tutorials with the latest Adobe software, please consider making a contribution. More information can be found on my ABOUT ME PAGE as well as on the side bar. Thank you in advance for all of your support and thank you to those who have already donated. See you next week. 



AIA New Orleans Recognizes Neighborhood Building Blocks with Design Awards

Eight years removed from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans architects are still focusing on rebuilding the connective tissue that was stretched and shattered after the storm such as neighborhood community centers, libraries, and adaptively re-used homes.

Stapleton and Lowry: Two New Neighborhoods Take Flight

A history of aviation and adaptive reuse has generated two unique developments in Denver

Studio H:T: Process and Place Lead to Alternative Construction Methods

Just eight years old, this Colorado architecture firm is researching new ways to put buildings together, and turning this research into construction.

Design Activity Hits the Brakes in April

Another extended spring swoon seems unlikely, but architecture firms continue to report problems in keeping projects moving along

3 Reasons Your 3 Ton Air Conditioner Isn’t Really 3 Tons

hvac air conditioner size capacity ahri manual s accaOf course, there are more than 3 reasons that your 3 ton air conditioner isn’t really 3 tons, starting with the fact that it’s not 3 tons in weight. That unit refers to cooling capacity and harkens back to the days of ice. I’m also not talking about any of the multitude of reasons having to do with improper design, faulty installations, or lack of maintenance, topics that I discuss plenty in this space.

No, today I’m going to tell you that your 3 ton (or 2 ton or whatever size you have) air conditioner may not be what you think it is even when everything’s designed, installed, commissioned, and maintained perfectly. David Butler wrote about two of these reasons in a guest post on ACCA’s Manual S protocol for selecting HVAC equipment two years ago, and that’s a great article for understanding some of the subtleties.

So, what are these 3 reasons?

1. Nominal vs. actual capacity

The first reason is that when we talk about air conditioner capacity, we’re usually giving the nominal size. A 3 ton air conditioner has a nominal capacity of 36,000 BTU per hour, but the actual rating using the operating conditions specified by AHRI is rarely the same as the nominal capacity. For example, the AC shown in the AHRI certificate below is a 3 ton air conditioner (36,000 BTU/hr) with an actual capacity of 2.8 tons (34,000 BTU/hr).


ahri certificate air conditioner capacity actual nominal

2. AHRI’s indoor operating conditions vs.

thermometer air conditoner capacity

Continue reading “3 Reasons Your 3 Ton Air Conditioner Isn’t Really 3 Tons”

The Controversy Over L.A.’s ‘Sculpturalism’ Show

After all the flap, one thing seems clear: Los Angeles and its cultural institutions are still struggling to make sense of the past two or three decades, a period in which a few of the city’s leading architects have achieved worldwide fame.